The recent deaths of cyclists Jose Martel and Bridget Dawson have raised the anxiety levels of every person in San Luis Obispo County who uses a bicycle for transportation and recreation. Since 2014, seven cyclists have been killed on county roadways. Unfortunately, these sad local deaths are in keeping with a national trend that saw highway fatalities rise in 2015 to the largest percentage increase in 50 years.
Not surprisingly, 2016 is on track to exceed 2015, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributes this increase in deaths to the use of electronic devices, apps and even Wi-Fi service in our vehicles.
Jose’s death is still being investigated by the CHP, and the driver involved in Bridget’s death has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and is awaiting trial. Of the five other deaths, two resulted in the arrest and conviction of the drivers for a variety of charges. The remaining three deaths were attributed to California Vehicle Code violations by the cyclists.
The real sadness is that all of these deaths and the drivers’ subsequent loss of freedom were completely avoidable. In each case, the cyclist or the driver of the motor vehicle made a decision that was contrary to his or her responsibility to operate a vehicle in a safe and lawful manner.
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Where can we go from here? How can we, as individuals and as a community, turn these tragic incidents into positive efforts to reduce traffic deaths and improve safety for all users of our roadways?
As individuals, we can all do something that does not cost a dime, and will result in saving lives.
As cyclists, we can:
▪ Obey the rules of the road.
▪ Be visible, predictable and alert to our surroundings.
▪ Be courteous to our fellow road users.
As motorists, we can:
▪ Commit to driving our cars without distraction.
▪ Obey the rules of the road.
▪ Slow down, pay attention and treat other users of the road with courtesy.
Is running a stop sign or a red light to make the start of a ride worth it? Is reading that text something that cannot wait? Is the life of a person worth the time you’ll save by speeding? Is riding a bicycle at night without proper lighting equipment worth putting yourself and a driver at risk?
As a community, there are several things we can do. First, we can insist that our local elected officials place funding for transportation improvements at the highest priority. Building a transportation infrastructure that supports multimodal travel — pedestrian, bicycle, automobile and public transit — increases safety for all users of our roads. The very narrow defeat of Measure J demonstrates to our public officials that this is important.
We can also encourage all communities in San Luis Obispo County to adopt Vision Zero and seek Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) designations. Vision Zero focuses on eliminating traffic fatalities by improving roadway design, enforcing laws and educating all users of the roads. The city of San Luis Obispo adopted Vision Zero in October, and we can encourage each city and SLO County to adopt Vision Zero.
Being a BFC means implementing policies and infrastructure that make bicycling safe, comfortable and convenient for people of all ages and abilities. The cities of Arroyo Grande, Morro Bay, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo have received BFC designations, and we should push for the other cities and Cal Poly to seek this designation.
Goals, initiatives, strategies and action plans are important and serve a purpose. However, our bottom line is much more personal. Every time we grab the handlebars of our bikes, put on our walking shoes or get behind the wheels of our vehicles, we need to focus on following the law and treating all users of our roadways with courtesy, patience and respect. The laws and these traits combined are steps that can be taken by all road users to improve our safety and experiences on the road.
David Abrecht is the president of the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club. Chris McBride is board president of Bike SLO County.